Essentially, mobile communication is meant to keep people in touch 24/7 with minimal barriers due to terrain, among others. This just cements the reality that communication is not a luxury, but a right.
Malawi has four network operators all offering mobile phone connectivity. These are Airtel Malawi Limited, TNM plc, Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL) and Access Communications Limited (ACL).
For a long time, the phone network operators have bragged about providing the best network connectivity across Malawi. However, on the contrary, there are several uncovered patches nationwide where, in this day and age, people still have to climb anti-hills or roof tops to get phone connectivity.
Poor connectivity has been one of the frustrating aspects of service delivery by our local phone operators. I recall in 2011 or thereabouts, former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika complaining about being embarrassed with the high rate of dropped calls (ma foni omangoduka-duka munthu usanathe kulankhula) while he was on the line with fellow Heads of State.
Ironically, despite the unreliable service, the phone operators demand the moon for their service. Besides the high rate of dropped calls, there is also poor quality reception that one has to make an effort to clearly get the caller at the other end.
In business and customer service, price is supposed to match the service offered. But, having been a subscriber of Airtel, TNM, MTL and ACL, I do not believe the tariffs Malawians are charged fit the bill.
Given that tourism is touted as one of the sectors to boost economic growth and foreign exchange revenue in the country, my expectation was that phone operators would ensure good network connection in such places. However, I found this to be on the contrary during my recent visit to Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art at Mua in Dedza District.
Mua is a place rich in history of the cultural heritage of the Chewa, Ngoni and Yao tribes. Tourists visit the place to appreciate the culture and history. It is a place worth visiting.
However, what disturbed me and my colleagues was the poor connectivity, especially on Airtel and TNM networks. For MTL mobile, well, I switched off my handset upon getting out of Blantyre to save the battery as the signal was on and off.
Bank on Airtel and TNM I did. We got to Mua and suddenly I realised I was out of network. My colleagues faced a similar situation. The network was on-and-off (yotapitsa) whereby you take two paces and get Internet connectivity on your phone only to lose the same with the next step.
For the good of tourism, my humble plea to the operators is to boost the signal in the Mua area and several other areas to keep subscribers talking and browsing. People should not struggle when they are paying for the service.
To Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra), please promote and protect the best interests of all stakeholders: consumers, operators and all. Consumers, in particular, are getting a raw deal through poor connectivity which, ironically, they are asked to pay for at a premium rate.
If I pay for the service, surely, I should not be subjected to antics like switching on and off my handset to boost signal or even climbing a tree to make a call or browse. Who will pay for my hospital bill if I break my leg? Certainly, Airtel and TNM will deny responsibility.